Interlude: The Other Haydn at the Side of the Road

In 1783, Mozart visited Salzburg with his wife Constanze. While there, he dropped in to see his good friend, Haydn, who was in trouble. Haydn had a commission due for the Archbishop–a set of six duos for violin and viola. Four were already completed, but Haydn had taken ill and was unable to complete the set. Picking up his friend’s quill, Mozart wrote the final two duos for him (taking no credit on the autograph score for his work). This was not Joseph Haydn, safe and healthy back home in Vienna. This composer was Michael Haydn, Joseph’s younger brother.

Today, the music of Joseph Haydn remains extremely popular across the Western world. I would venture to guess that not a single season passes at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall without dozens of Joseph’s works being presented. And yet Michael Haydn’s music–held in near equal esteem during their lifetimes–has fallen into neglect and obscurity.

Why is this? For one, while Joseph readily published his compositions–his oratorio, The Creation was a particular hit–Michael refused to publish his works. So while Mozart frequently wrote to his father requesting copies of Michael’s latest compositions (more on that Conversation to come), the lack of available scores led unsurprisingly to his music being forgotten after his death. It also didn’t help that while Joseph was in Vienna, teaching Beethoven and mentoring Mozart, Michael remained in Salzburg, a relative backwater.

I am not really a fan of Joseph Haydn’s music, but I do have a soft spot for Michael’s. As did Mozart–perhaps to an unseemly degree. Mozart’s “37th” symphony, K. 444, turns out to be little more than Micahel Haydn’s 25th (Mozart wrote the brief opening Adagio and tinkered a bit with the score). There is no better complement I can think of than to say that one of Michael Haydn’s compositions was, for more than a century, believed to be the work of one of the greatest composers of all time.

The history, such as it is, of “Mozart’s 37th Symphony” is somewhat unsatisfying. It appears that Mozart had studied the score of Haydn’s 25th Symphony during his stay in Salzburg, tinkering, as was his wont, with the instrumentation and orchestration. It appears that he carried this study back with him to Vienna. On the way, the Mozarts stoped in the town of Linz, where he was received by the local aristocracy and commanded to give a symphonic performance. Mozart, however, had no scores with him, save the odd studies he had made during his time in Salzburg. From these, he–in four days, thank you very much–created his 36th Symphony (the “Linz” Symphony) and appears to have composed a short intro for his study of Haydn’s 25th and passed it off as his 37th. Needs must and all.

Here, both are presented for your consideration. First, Haydn’s original version; then, second, the “Mozart” version, which has a bit over a minute of original Mozart composition at the start, which is followed (starting at 1:24 in the below) with a slightly edited version of Haydn’s original.

The other Haydn deserves his day in the sun.

Michael Haydn, Symphony No. 25 in G Major

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Symphony No. 37 in G Major

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